The defendants are known collectively as the Jena Six, and in the four months since their story broke to a broader public, the youths have emerged as an international cause celebre, latter-day Scottsboro Boys exciting outrage and organizing on their behalf and trying Jena itself in the court of public opinion…
"We're standing strong. We're not going to hand our kids over to them"- father of one of the Jena Six defendants
First came CNN report: “A Louisiana appeals court Friday vacated the remaining conviction of a teenager accused in a violent, racially charged incident in Jena, Louisiana” (“Louisiana judge tosses conviction against teen tried as adult”, 09/15/07).
It is too little, too late. 17-year old Mychal Bell has already been in jail since December, 2006, over a racially instigated schoolyard fight. It’s too late to give him back life as he once knew, full of prospects and hopes. Bell’s father, Marcus Jones, laments, “I want his credibility back, his eligibility, like this never happened. That’s the way it should be.”
It’s too late to turn back the hands of time to a time when this never happened.
It’s too little, because (as of this writing) Bell is still incarcerated. La Salle Parish District Attorney Reed Walters still has a sleuth of devilish options. He can harden his heart and appeal to the State Supreme Court. After his being humiliated in lower criminal court, this route would be impeachable in spirit and integrity of the law. At worse, it will be a juvenile court case, and the conspiracy theory to commit a “spontaneous” school fight will not stand the light of day. Only in Jena, Louisiana with an all-white jury would such racial injustice would be justified in a so-call kangaroo court of law.
African-Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites, and Hispanics nearly double the rate. Louisiana has a higher rate of black incarceration than the national average or that of nearby states such as Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. But it has a lower rate than Texas, Florida and others. [source: Bureau of Justice Statistics]
Attorney Reed Walters has one of two options: Drop the case or Re-file it in Juvenile Court.
It’s too late to stop the caravan to Jena. People have already gone through the expense of organizing and filling up buses with demonstrators. D-Day is Jena 6 Black-Out Day: September 20.
The day has been dubbed “blackout day”, because supporters of the Jena youth who cannot make the trip to Louisiana will show their support by wearing black on that day.
IT IS SO ON!
Newsweek National Week reported that “Civil rights protestors are still planning to converge on tiny Jena, Louisiana”. (“The Jena Six”, 09/15/07).
The ongoing controversy has thrown Jena, population about 3,000, into an uncomfortable spotlight that isn’t likely to dim with the latest court decision. Civil rights activists, bloggers and black radio hosts helped spread the word about the case, demanding an end to what they see as unequal justice. On Saturday, some of the Jena Six and their relatives and lawyers joined the Rev. Jesse Jackson in Chicago at his Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters. “We will not rest” until all charges are dropped against the Jena Six, Jackson said. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union is reviewing data from the La Salle Parish district attorney’s office for evidence of racial disparities or violation of civil rights. The district attorney has declined to comment on the case, citing a gag order.
“What’s happened in Jena is indicative of the new Jim Crow racism that inflicts many parts of the country. There is a misuse of the criminal justice system as a kind of poverty control,” says Alan Bean, an activist with the civil rights group Friends of Justice. “We have basically criminalized poor people … I think Jena is a particularly egregious example of business as usual in the American criminal justice system.”
Billy Fowler, a white school board member, says most people in his hometown agree that the Jena Six were dealt with too harshly. But he bristles at the charges of racism. “They want to see our town as being the most racist town in the world. That’s what’s being painted of Jena. Obviously this is the Deep South. If we went back in time 50 years, maybe what they’re saying would have been true. But today we have come a 1,000 miles from that.”
Francis Holland reports: More than 200,000 people have signed ColorOfChange.org's online petition calling on District Attorney Reed Walters to drop the charges against the Jena 6, and have called on Governor Kathleen Blanco to intervene in the case. [UPDATE COUNT: 212,905]
Briefs & Commentary by Eddie Griffin
Over 200,000 people are allied in this one and same cause: To Free the Jena 6. That’s a lot of people. That’s a lot of votes. Presidential Candidate Barak Obama came out early in a statement supportive of the accused Jena youth. And after the courts overturned the second conviction of Mychal Bell, candidate Hillary Clinton applauded the appeal courts decision.
Clinton applauded the Friday decision by an appeals court in Louisiana tossing out the aggravated battery conviction that could have sent a black teenager to prison for 15 years in last year's beating of a white classmate in the racially tense town of Jena… "There is no excuse for the way the legal system treated those young people," she said. "We have had an attorney general who doesn't respect the rule of law or enforce the civil rights laws on the books"- Hillary Clinton speaking to a crowd of about 900 people at the annual Freedom Fund Banquet of the Charleston National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
FAMILY & Friends
"Everybody around the world -- China, France -- everybody knows about this," John Jenkins, the father of Carwin Jones, another of the six, recently told black students at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.
Caseptla Bailey, mother of Robert Bailey, Jr. asked Dr. Alan Bean of University of Texas-Arlington, founder and director of Friends of Justice, a faith-based organization that works on criminal justice reform -- to come to Jena.
Bean, who is white, did what many black people do all the time when it comes to race: He connected the dots to reveal a pattern. But white people often look at the same scenario and see someone drawing lines in thin air.
“I realized if no one intervened, these kids were going to end up with felony convictions that they would be dragging with them through their lives,” Bean said. “I didn't really think they were going to get 80 years in prison, but I thought they might end up with a decade or two. . . .Young black males are going to prison in bizarre numbers.”